Thursday 18 June 2009

New York, New York (Tomato)

New Street York Street

Excuse the interruption in regular programming, but Melbourne Gastronome is in New York and San Francisco for the next three weeks! Currently writing to you from the beautiful "loftette" that best-friend-K and I have sublet in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

The damn fog delay in Melbourne on Tuesday meant that we missed our connecting flight to New York from Los Angeles, so b-f-K and I had an unexpected 24 hour stopover staying at the Hilton LAX courtesy of Qantas. I picked up some nasty flu-like symptoms on the flight over (hoping it's not The Swine), so I'm taking lots of cold n flu meds and hoping the feverish aches and blocked sinuses clear up soon so that I can attack New York with the vigour it deserves.

Over the next few weeks I aim to write up a few culinary highlights of my trip (and a big thank you to those Melbourne Gastronome readers who've left comments or sent emails recommending places I should visit - I transcribed every suggestion into my little red notebook!), but in the meantime here's a review from my last weekend in Melbourne.

New York Tomato
2-6 New Street (corner of York Street), Richmond (map)
9429 0505

New York Tomato

The Ladies Who Lunch became Ladies Who Brunch when they took me out for a farewell brunch on Sunday. Appropriately enough considering my travel destination, they chose New York Tomato as our brunch venue.

NYT is not named after the Big Apple, as you might expect, but after its tucked-away location on the corner of New Street and York Street in Richmond. I hadn't been to NYT since before I started writing Melbourne Gastronome, and I must say I was most impressed with the quality of the food - even more so when you take a birds eye view of the place and appreciate what cramped quarters their kitchen staff are working in. The place was doing a roaring trade at 11am on Sunday - so much so that the only spare tables were in a cute little upstairs room I was previously unaware of.

New York TomatoNew York Tomato

Miss L had one of the specials: poached eggs on Turkish toast with smokey beans, chorizo, rocket, fetta and crisp shallots ($16.50). I tasted the beans - they really were wonderfully smokey.

Poached eggs on turkish toast with smokey beans, chorizo, rocket, fetta and crisp shallots

I was in a tomatoey mood so I ordered the free range eggs baked in a claypot with napoli sauce, goats cheese, basil and pine nuts then served with toast ($15). All rather simple familiar flavours, but such a hearty and nourishing winter dish.

Free range eggs baked in napoli sauce with goats cheese, basil, pine nuts and toast

My favourite of the dishes though had to be what Miss T ordered: mushrooms roasted with caramelised onions, slow roasted garlic, basil, porcini oil and parmesan nut wafers ($14.50). Oh this dish was so so good: the rich fleshy mushrooms, the soft garlic, the crisp wafers. I'm making it a priority to go back and order it when I return to Melbourne.

Mushrooms roasted with caramelised onions, slow roasted garlic, basil, parmesan nut wafer and porcini oil

Miss B wanted something sweet, so she ordered the Belgian waffles with banana, cinnamon roasted pears, spiced labna and orange blossom maple syrup ($14.50). Another winner - the waffles had just the right crisp-but-slightly-chewy texture, and the orange blossom in the maple syrup and the spices in the labna came out beautifully.

Belgian waffles with banana, cinnamon roasted pears, spiced labna and orange blossom maple syrup

On the strength of this brunch I'm adding New York Tomato to my shortlist of best brunches in Melbourne!

Sunday 14 June 2009

Good times at Home Dining Room

Home Dining Room
601 Burwood Road, Hawthorn (map)
9819 5555

Home Dining Room

A few weeks ago I had a non-working Wednesday so I decided to trot down to Home Dining Room by myself for a spot of late brunch. You'll find it on Burwood Road Hawthorn, just near Auburn train station. It's a quiet neighbourhood with a sprinkling of shops (including a COMPLETELY fabulous-looking lights-and-neon-bedecked shop called The Seventh Art (573 Burwood Road, Hawthorn, 9818 6177)... as well as selling hard-to-find movies, movie collectibles and books on movies, art and design, The Seventh Art also rents out arthouse and hard-to-find movies. It's been open just a week - I haven't allowed myself in there yet because I know I'd spend my New York savings if I did, but the film geek in me is really looking forward to spending an afternoon there when I get back to Melbourne in July).

Home Dining Room

When I do arrive back in Melbourne and revisit Auburn Village, I'm also looking forward to returning to HDR to sample more of their menu - but I'll find it hard to go past ordering the same brunch again because it was SO GOOD: prosciutto, baked asparagus, parmesan and rocket topped with two poached eggs and dukkah ($14). Check it out: the asparagus was wonderfully fresh and the eggs had been poached perfectly. The slightly crispy prosciutto, nutty dukkah and dabs of balsamic reduction finished off a thoroughly delicious dish.

Prosciutto, baked asparagus, parmesan and rocket topped with two poached eggs and dukkah
Prosciutto, baked asparagus, parmesan and rocket topped with two poached eggs and dukkah

I was first introduced to HDR by my friends Gen and Andrew, as Glen McLeod (the owner and front-of-house man) previously worked for them at Auction Rooms before setting up his own place in January. Glen has a lovely quirky sense of humour, and takes great care of his customers. The venue itself has a warm, rustic vibe - loved the polished wooden table at the front - with a nice attention to detail and quality. The chef (the rather dishy Jeremy Fritchly, ex-Orange) is originally from New Zealand, as is Glen: and I noted with approval at brunch that music by the Kiwi band Sola Rosa was being played.

Home Dining RoomSukurambo Vert

Poached quince, poached quince, poached quince. Seriously, is poached quince just the best thing ever, or what? 'Tis the season for poached quince and I adore it.

When I'd seen they had poached quince on the menu I'd deliberately chosen a brunch dish that was unaccompanied by bread, so that I'd have room for brunch dessert. Mmmm, brunch dessert...

Quince season

Tempted as I was by the quince special, instead I ordered the homemade banana bread with poached quince and spiced yoghurt. To accompany the brunch dessert, Glen suggested I try a teapot of Sukurambo Vert, a cherry-flavoured green tea from Lupicia. We then took turns saying the word "Sukurambo" to each other in dramatic, raspy voices. Try it, it's fun.

Toasted banana bread with poached quince and spiced yoghurt

As well as being a great breakfast and lunch cafe, HDR is also open in the evenings. Gen and Andrew invited me and best-friend-K there a little while back for a fabulous degustation dinner. Not all of these dishes are on the current menu (and some have been modified), but these were our culinary highlights: first, a simple Caprese salad of buffalo mozzarella with baby roma tomatoes and basil; then home smoked ocean trout on a cauliflower puree with matchsticks of apple, truffle oil and "popcorn" capers.

Buffalo mozzarella with baby roma tomatoes and basilHouse smoked ocean trout, cauliflower puree, shaved apple, truffle oil and caper popcorn

We also had ras-el-hanout crusted barramundi on a bed of (achingly good) homemade baba ghanoush; then a filo parcel containing pumpkin, porcini and Meredith goats cheese risotto, on creamed spinach. Truth be told, I was a little dubious when the filo-wrapped risotto came out but I was pleasantly surprised at how well it worked.

Ras-el-hanout barramundi on baba ghanoushFilo parcel with pumpkin, porcini and Meredith goats cheese risotto, on creamed spinach

Next was the confit duck leg with celeriac puree, roasted beetroot cubes and red wine jus. The first of the four (!!) desserts was a not-too-sweet coconut pannacotta with seared mango, taro chip and kiwi fruit gelato.

Confit duck leg with celeriac puree, roasted beetroot cubes and red wine jusCoconut pannacotta with seared mango, kiwi fruit gelato and taro chip

Getting back to the quinces, we had a deconstructed crumble with poached quince and cinnamon mascarpone, then were finished off by a wicked sliver of Rochebaron creamy blue and quince jelly on toasted gingerbread. Quince heaven!

Deconstructed crumble, cinnamon mascarpone and quinceRoche Baron blue cheese on toasted gingerbread, quince jelly

Wednesday 10 June 2009

Random Day of Asian Food

Random Day of Asian FoodRandom Day of Asian Food

A couple of weeks ago I attended my friend C's "Random Day of Asian Food". The invite had read as follows:

'CC and I were thinking it's been far too long since we've had a big bunch of people over at our house to do something random, so this Saturday we're planning a dumpling + other random asian food making day. We're thinking people could turn up at around 4pm and between us we can see if we can make dumplings from scratch without poisoning ourselves. Other random asian foods that may well be on the menu include sushi - depending on whether we can find fresh things to put in it, or perhaps wontons if we decide that making dumpling skins from scratch is just too hard. Any other suggestions for random asian foods that can be made by large groups of people would be most welcome.

Adding to the excitement of the event is the fact that we have little to no idea how to make dumplings or any other random asian foods.'

Random Day of Asian Food

I love dumplings but had never made them from scratch before. Excitement! I arrived a little late to find the filling already made and the kitchen a hive of activity. C had never made dumplings from scratch before but his wife CC clearly knew what she was doing, as she expertly rolled balls of dough into thin discs.

Random Day of Asian FoodRandom Day of Asian Food

The dumpling filling had cabbage, ginger, onions, pork mince, beef mince, ji cai, vegetable oil, salt, pepper and soy sauce. CC didn't know the English word for ji cai (which came to us directly from her Chinese mother's garden), but my research has turned up a bewildering variety of names for Hottuynia Cordata: lizard's tail, shepherd's purse, fish plant, fishwort, heart leaf and chameleon plant. It's a wild spring green, often considered a weed, used in some Shanghainese dishes and in Chinese medicine. It gave the dumplings a pleasant, slightly floral taste.

Random Day of Asian Food

My first self-made dumpling! I quickly found out that the trick is to not put in too much filling.

Random Day of Asian FoodRandom Day of Asian Food

When we'd made all the dumplings we still had heaps of filling left, so CC brought out some pre-made wonton skins.

Random Day of Asian FoodRandom Day of Asian Food

She showed me how to wrap them, Chinese-style (as I learned from this site, there are at least eight different ways to wrap them).
Step one: place the filling in the middle, then run a wet finger along the far edge of the skin to coat it in water.
Step two: fold the skin in half, so the wet edge sticks to the dry edge.
Step three: fold the skin in half again to make a long thin strip (ideally you'll have put a small enough quantity of meat in the middle so that the skin refolds relatively easily).
Step four: wet the ends of the folded skin then bring the ends back round to the middle so that they kiss and stick together.

Random Day of Asian FoodRandom Day of Asian Food
Random Day of Asian FoodRandom Day of Asian Food

When the big group of us had finished preparing the dumplings and wontons, CC was in charge of boiling them up, in a manner very similar to the way my Nonna cooks gnocchi.

Random Day of Asian Food

Of course I couldn't resist adding a bit of soy sauce, Chinkinang vinegar and chilli oil to my soup, the way I have my chilli oil dumplings at Camy's...

Random Day of Asian Food

Some of the dumplings were steamed, some were boiled in soup and some were pan-fried. Not bad at all for a first effort.

Random Day of Asian FoodRandom Day of Asian Food

Later on we made some sushi (not pictured, alas) and some prawn crackers.

Loved the one that came out in the shape of a butterfly!

Cooking prawn crackersPrawn crackers

Wednesday 3 June 2009

Seven Seeds, Melbourne's newest coffee cafe

Seven Seeds
114 Berkeley Street, Carlton (map)
9347 8664

Seven Seeds

Today was a non-working day for me, so this morning I met the charming A for breakfast at Seven Seeds (the latest venture of Mark "Brother Baba Budan" Dundon), which opened yesterday.

Seven Seeds

As with several of Melbourne's other coffee houses, Seven Seeds favours a light-industrial, distressed-brick, exposed-beams workshop aesthetic which I love - particularly the shiny shiny floor, wall-mounted bike racks and the teacosy-like coverings on the lamps.

Seven Seeds

The cafe part of the space abuts the central lab and atrium, which is filled with potted coffee plants.

Seven SeedsSeven Seeds

Spotted a spectrometer (or is it a spectrograph? It's been ten years since I studied wine making) and other coffee geek gadgets in the lab. The actual roastery is in the back room.

Seven SeedsSeven Seeds

I was a wimp and ordered a latte, but A had a clover coffee, using beans from Panama.

Seven Seeds coffees

The menu is very simple at Seven Seeds: pastries, toast, muesli and hot pressed sandwiches. Love the way the kitchen is partitioned off from the rest of the space.

Seven SeedsSeven Seeds

For breakfast, we decided to share something sweet and something savoury. A selected the French toasted brioche with pear, ricotta, roasted almonds and "honest" maple ($11). Nice and eggy, but there was so much soft ricotta, we couldn't finish it.

French toasted brioche with pear, ricotta, roasted almonds and honest maple

I chose the hot pressed sandwich with pecorino, dukkah, sage and lemon zest, with a side of shaved cucumber and carrot in vinaigrette ($9) - an admittedly bold choice for before 9am. Massively thick slices of multi-grain Dench bread meant that we couldn't finish this one either. Good flavours though.

Hot pressed sandwich with pecorino, dukkah, sage and lemon zest

Located only a stone's throw from Melbourne Law School, Seven Seeds will no doubt become the new favourite coffee house of law students and academics alike - especially if the muwireless signal reaches that far... :)

Seven Seeds